Landscapers: Is A Client Asking For A Butterfly Garden In Clay Soil? Use Containers!

Butterflies… what's not to love? There is nothing more relaxing than watching beautiful butterflies flutter around vibrantly colored flowers. Some people enjoy it so much that they want gardens in their yards to attract butterflies. Unfortunately, much of Canada has what is called gleysolic (clay) soils which can make gardening difficult. So, what do you do when a landscaping client tasks you with creating a butterfly garden? You can—with topsoil in containers. Here are a few tips that can help you plan and develop a garden that will attract butterflies, even if you have clay soil.

Protect the Butterflies

Wind: Butterflies are delicate and need protection from the wind. Wind can be forceful enough to cause the butterflies to not be able to remain steady while feeding from the nectar in the garden—which is primarily what will lure them there to begin with. If it's too hard for them to get what they need, they will flutter away to search for a better garden to call their home.

Sun: They also need about plenty of sunshine, but not all day long or their wings may get burnt. Choose a location for the container garden that has limited wind and about 5-6 hours of sunlight. You can create a wind barrier by installing a lattice fence. Or, you place the containers near a wall or shed.  

Provide the Essentials

Puddles of water: Water contains minerals that are essential for butterflies to thrive. They prefer puddles of water where they can safely drink without being swept away in a current, such as may happen with a water fountain. Provide areas in the container garden where puddles of water can accumulate. A small bird bath placed near the containers will work. Just be sure it is out of the wind.

Resting spot: Butterflies need to rest. After all, they cannot flutter their gorgeous wings all day long. They prefer to rest where it is warm or in direct sunlight. Place several smooth stones around the containers that will be able to be warmed up by sunlight. So, even after the sun goes down or the garden is in the shade, the stones should still be warm enough to provide good resting spots.

Give Them Nectar & Places to Grow

Flowers: Different species of butterflies are attracted to different types of flowers. Therefore, it's a good idea to plant flowers that will attract butterflies that are common to your area. Use this tool to narrow down the species of butterflies for your area. The results will tell you what types of flowers will be most suitable for the species in your specific area.  

Host plants: In addition to planting flowers you will need to plant host plants for the caterpillars to chrysalis. Caterpillars feed off of host plants. The caterpillars will attach to the host plants during the chrysalis stage—which is when the transformation to a butterfly happens.

Keep It Natural

Topsoil: Use high quality topsoil that has an equal mixture of clay, sand and silt. This type of topsoil provides the best drainage for container gardening, as well as minerals within the soil for optimal plant health. Be sure to choose the plants first before you choose your topsoil. Discuss your plant options with the topsoil distributor to ensure you are getting the right type of topsoil for the butterfly garden.

Insects: Bring in the bugs. Beetles, lady bugs and lacewigs are able to naturally control the population of insects that can harm your garden. Most landscaping centers sell these types of bugs specifically to gardeners because these bugs prey on other bugs.

A butterfly garden can be a lot of hard work to get established, especially in clay soil. Fortunately, you can use containers to create a garden to attract butterflies for your clients.